DAUGHTER HELPS MOTHER FIND THE RIGHT QUESTION
Completing grade 12, falling pregnant and getting married all in few months is what our next youth did. At just six months Fatima Wentzel gave birth to her daughter prematurely, the odds were 50/50 for survival. Here Fatima tells us her inspirational journey.
Fatima, 24, from Bridgetown discovered she was pregnant in her final year at school, ‘when I was 18 I found out I was pregnant, as a Muslim girl, I knew that I would be expected to marry my boyfriend immediately as giving birth out of wedlock is forbidden. I told my family and the next evening I was married.’
‘I loved my boyfriend so marrying him was not a problem and in fact we had already spoken about it and set a date. However falling pregnant was not part of the plan, I was disappointed in myself. Life was challenging as many thought I would fail matric. I had to learn how to balance school life with being a good wife and being pregnant.’ Despite all the adjustments, on Friday 28th December 2008, Fatima got her Matric results ‘I passed matric, I had to show my school report to everyone so they could believe me. This was a victory for me proving to myself and others that I could overcome any challenge.’
The following Friday Fatima had a doctor’s appointment, and this was where her true challenge began. ‘The doctor told me that I had “placental insufficiency” and that there was only a 50/50 chance of the baby surviving.’ Fatima later got to know that her condition is due to insufficient blood flow to the placenta. This mean the fetus can get less oxygen and nutrients from the mother, as a result the development of the baby is compromised. ‘I was told to come back the following week to see if there had been any improvement which there wasn’t. I was convinced that my baby would die and my world fell apart. I was admitted into hospital, as my condition worsened, and I was given steroids so my baby’s lungs could mature fast enough to breath. I would ran away from hospital everyday, I was terrified and I began fighting with everyone around me’.
On day seven Fatima’s back began to turn blue and she went into labor. She was rushed into hospital and she had a cesarean, as her baby was bridge. ‘When she was born she weighed a mere 720g and she fitted into my husband’s palm. I was so afraid that I rejected her immediately.’ Despite encouragement from family and her husband, Fatima struggled to accept her baby and quickly fell into a depression.
‘I went to the ward where my baby was in her incubator and saw many other premature babies. I was overwhelmed still convinced she would die. I needed to give her the first few drops of milk so that she knew who her mother was and the nurse placed her on my chest. I could feel her tiny heart beat, she was defenseless and it began to hit me that I was her mother and this was my daughter. When I left the ward I broke down in tears and felt hopeless.’ Fatima and her husband were told to prepare for the worst but Fatima’s daughter began to pull through. ‘On day seven we had to give her a name, we held a ceremony at the hospital through the glass and named her Bilqees (a Muslim name meaning the Queen of Sheba).’ For months Bilquees’ condition was touch and go, gaining and losing weight daily and Fatima’s depression continued. ‘I remember every time I saw other mothers pregnant and giving birth I would judge them. I blamed everyone around me for my daughter’s condition and I kept asking the question, why me?’
One day a father, who was also trying to cope with a premature baby, spoke to Fatima. ‘He told me that he had been observing me for a few days and that I was behaving quite unstable. He also said that my behaviour was pushing everyone around me away. It was difficult to hear, but it was the harsh reality I needed. I realized that I was the cause of many of the frustrations in my life and that I needed to change.’
Fatima began to take more responsibility. ‘Bilqees developed Apnea which affected her breathing, so doctors recommended that I attended classes that showed me how to resuscitate her in case it was needed. I realized in that moment that I was not only her mother but I would also be her health carer. I needed to be strong for myself and my daughter.’ Thankfully Fatima never had to use what she learnt in the classes and Bilqees continued to develop. ‘She was still very small and many people would question me about how I was looking after her. I took this opportunity to explain what had happened and that despite her size she was a lot older than people thought. Talking about it and educating others really helped me overcome my depression. I found my inner strength again and confidence, knowing that I was doing the best I could.’
Today Bilqees is a vibrant and wise little girl who has just begun grade R. ‘In her first school day, I struggled to let go of my little girl. But her strength inspires me everyday. Now that she is in school, I have also decided to go back myself. I have recently applied to university to study Child Psychology.’
When we asked Fatima what her advice is to others, she said ‘my turning point was when I stopped asking “why me?” and started asking “how can I?” If you ask yourself “how can I do this?” you will begin to find the answers.’
Fatima is a former Family Affairs participant, an intervention offered by Salesian Life Choices.